What Healthy Church Leadership Looks Like

October 25, 2018


What healthy church leadership looks like. This is one way to consider Paul’s first letter to Timothy in the New Testament. Paul’s beloved church at Ephesus—the one he personally spent three years nurturing after its troubled beginning (Acts 19)—was in more trouble. Just as he had foreseen (Acts 20:29-31) “wolves” even from their “own number” had arisen to “distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

Unable to go himself, Paul sent young Timothy to counter these false teachers and restore the Ephesian church to health. It was a tough task. In the letter Paul continually urged Timothy to “fight the good fight;” to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young;” to “command, and teach;” and to “set an example” to the church. Paul knew Timothy needed such encouragement. To counter established and embedded leadership within in a church—especially if that leadership is unhealthy—took courage and persistence. Timothy struggled. The task even seemed to make him ill, but Paul prodded him to persevere.

Truth had been distorted by the unhealthy leaders in Ephesus. Their worship time was affected. Certain restrictions were being enforced that were unhealthy and unauthorized. Some women of the congregation had been negatively influenced, exploited and were acting out in unhealthy ways. Benevolence was being mishandled and taken advantage of. People in general were being mistreated. Leadership’s love for money was a driving force in the unhealthy spirit.

Timothy was to avoid all of this, speak soundness into it, while living out a contrasting healthy leadership style before the church. This was Timothy’s task—to teach about and to live out what healthy church leadership looks like.

The Character of Healthy Leadership

Since the church in Ephesus had such a distorted and unhealthy leadership structure, they needed clarification on the kind of character God values in his leaders. This is where Paul’s instructions in 3:1-12 are so important. Paul shares character sketches of the kind of people God is calling to lead his church both as shepherds and special servants. Leading God’s people is noble—highly needed and valued, but only for those who feel called and those who have the right heart and character.

Paul first speaks to elders. He outlines how those who desire to shepherd the flock must have a character beyond reproach. This character must be seen not just at church but also at home—in his commitment to his wife and family—and in the community. He must have the right temperament; the ability to discipline himself in all situations; know how to treat and welcome people and know how to teach. He should have healthy motivations; not given to addiction, extremes or flattery. He needs experience and sound judgment. These are the kind of men God needs—healthy and servant-minded—to shepherd God’s flock. Healthy leaders who will produce healthy churches—something not happening at Ephesus.

Next Paul offers a similar description of the healthy character of deacons (and either their wives or deaconesses). Those who serve the church in this way are also to be people who are worthy of respect; self-controlled, honest, clear minded and properly motivated, experienced in serving, trustworthy, not trouble makers—demonstrating their faith at home within their family.

All of this is what healthy church leadership looks like. It is the way leadership “ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth,” Paul remarks.

Again, contextually this is not what leadership looked like in Ephesus. Again, Timothy’s ministry there was to change that. To take Paul’s teaching, live it out, teach it, and bring about the changes needed within that church.

In our context we read and learn; we also are to live it out and teach it. Healthy church leadership is all too vital. As leadership goes, so goes the church. Ephesus is an example of what happens when it all goes bad. We do not ever want to be there. That is why Paul’s teaching remains ever crucial. It remains crucial when churches look to identify and add leadership. It remains crucial for those who are called to leadership. It remains crucial if churches are to be healthy.

Practical Applications

Lived out, this kind of healthy leadership also includes being:

  • Purposeful: Healthy leadership understands their purpose—to shepherd the flock—and intentionally lives that out. They are purposeful in protecting, nurturing, guiding, loving and caring for the sheep.
  • Progressive: In that, they have vision for the sheep and plan for ways to continue the growth of the sheep. They are forward thinking. They do not let the sheep remain in same pasture until there is no more food to sustain them.
  • Present: Shepherds stay with the sheep. The only reason they leave is to go find the one lamb that has wandered away. This is the only way the shepherd will know the sheep and they will recognize his voice.
  • Prayerful: This may be obvious, but it still needs stating. Healthy leaders spend much time in prayer for those they lead.

Healthy leadership like that Timothy was to teach and demonstrate (and what we continue to need in churches now) is to be:

…diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Preserve in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (4:15-16).

This is what healthy church leadership looks like.

Remember These Things

October 18, 2018


The story of the second epistle of Peter is quite fascinating. Likely written to the same collection of Christians and churches in some provinces of Asia Minor as his first letter, Peter sets out to correct some misunderstandings and expose some false teachers. There is urgency to his writing due to his impending death—foretold to him by Christ (1:14). So, he writes asking his readers to “make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things” (1:15).

God Empowers (1:3-11)

Before he addresses the heresy, character and accusations of the false teachers and their destructive work among these churches, he begins the correspondence by reminding them just how incredible is the power of God at work within them (and us). He does so, no doubt, to provide reminding fortification to these Christians that God empowered them to do his will; provided for them to do his will; and invited them to fully participate in his will. To this end they should get after it, adding the tools God provided for them to get it done—knowledge; self-control; perseverance; godliness, brotherly kindness; and love. These virtues would empower them to overcome evil while producing within them the divine nature. These virtues also stood in stark contrast with the character of the false teachers, who were “nearsighted and blind” having “forgotten that he has been cleansed of his past sin.”

These virtues would also enable these Christians to ensure their “calling and election” even as the false teachers attempted to undermine it. It would also ensure that they would not fall into their traps and snares. The end result would be a welcome—not to the kind of folly represented in the false teaching, but into the very eternal kingdom of God. In order for these churches to withstand the false teaching being pushed upon them and to be able to expose the false teachers for who they were, Peter knew they needed to know they could—that God empowered them with everything they needed, not just for that specific challenge, but for all challenges.

Peter’s Purpose (1:12-21)

Here Peter states why he is writing with urgency and begins to address some of the accusations of the false teachers hurting these churches. One of the methods they used to attempt to destroy Peter’s influence was to claim that he and the other apostles simply made up their teachings about Christ. So Peter reaffirms and restates his case as an eye and ear witness to everything he had shared about Jesus. He was there. His message was not some “cleverly invented stories” as the false teachers propagated. Further the prophets also give witness to Christ. They did not make the stories up either, but spoke from God as the Holy Spirit led them. Listen to them, not the false teachers. Peter’s word and the prophet’s word—a much better and reliable witness than these false teachers—whose character and intent Peter would expose and shred to pieces in the next section.

False Teachers Exposed (2:1-22)

As Peter exposes and takes down the false teachers—“springs without water and mists driven by a storm”—it becomes clear how they operated and what their aim was. Their goal was to destroy any and all of the healthy influence and teaching they had received from Peter and the other apostles and replace it with a self-serving, “freedom” based doctrine that allowed them to exploit these churches in order to achieve their goals—basically stated—money and sex.

These teachers operated smoothly, of course, using familiar terms while twisting them at the same time (it seems likely that one example of such would be the purposeful mishandling of some of Paul’s teaching—perhaps Romans 6 on grace and freedom—since Peter mentions Paul and how some of his teaching is “hard to understand”—3:15-16). The stories of the false teachers were the ones “made up”—not what Peter witnessed to them. He makes it clear that these teachers stand in shameful condemnation

But these teachers had found a standing in these churches through their secretive agendas and accusations. Another such accusation claimed that there really was no real reckoning coming. After all, nothing much had changed over the generations, so God really was not going to bring about any kind of judgment. This accusation coupled with a false understanding of freedom would open the way for the false teachers to justify their actions—a way to reframe their evil agendas in a way to actually put God’s stamp of approval on them. Peter was having none of this. He mentions three Old Testament examples of God’s reckoning (along with God’s rescue for the righteous) and affirms it is coming for the false teachers.

Next Peter exposes their ungodly character. He does not hold back in describing just how depraved they were–arrogant, blasphemers, carousers, blots, blemishes, adulterers, greedy, and accursed. He compares them to Balaam—something no one would ever welcome. Their teaching was useless and destructive—just a means to get what they really wanted—exploiting and deceiving the church to gain money and sexual favors. They boasted in freedom, but yet were truly slaves to their lusts. In a stark illustration, Peter describes them as pigs returning to the mud and dogs returning to their vomit. Once enlightened perhaps by the knowledge of Christ, these teachers now had returned to the vile filth of the world and were attempting to drag these churches down with them.

The Day of the Lord (3:1-18)

In this last section Peter deals with one more accusation, that is, that the return of Christ is not going to happen. This was the claim of the false teachers—the scoffers—who had infiltrated these churches. Not true is Peter’s response calling them to remember the days of Noah. Jesus will return Peter affirms, but is being held back by the Father, who is patient beyond our understanding and desires to give everyone in every generation the opportunity for salvation. God’s patience is not merely measured in days and years. He is not thusly limited, but even so “the day of the Lord” will come—most certainly and unexpectedly.

When he comes the heavens and earth will undergo a fiery transformation—elements laid bare; stripped clean; evil destroyed. What remains will be “a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.” No place here for the false teachers and what they are peddling. So Peter asks in light of this information, “what kind of people ought you to be?” He answers his own question, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.” (Both the question and the answer still vitally pertinent and true today.) Don’t listen to the false teachers. Jesus is coming, but God is patient. Embrace his salvation and live it out in purity and peace. Don’t listen to the false teachers. Listen to the apostles—to Paul—not to the distortion of Paul offered by these “ignorant and unstable” teachers. They are out of control and headed for destruction—don’t follow them! Guard against them. This is what Peter wants them to remember.


You Belong

October 11, 2018


The Ephesian church was troubled from the start (see Acts 19) and continued to experience challenges both typical and atypical to infant New Testament churches (see 1 & 2 Timothy and Revelation 2:1-7). The apostle Paul invested three years personally ministering to this group—developing a close, special relationship with them, while also foreseeing some of their future problems (see Acts 20:13-38).

One problem in particular was the challenge of harmonious assimilation for all into the new concept of a multi-ethnic faith community that the church was. This community in Ephesus was largely made up on non-Jews, but the long shadow of God’s covenant relationship with the Jews remained. The non-Jews were having a difficult time accepting their placement within the church due to not previously enjoying that covenant relationship—exacerbated, no doubt, by many Jews who had the same difficulty for them for the same reasons. So Paul speaks to this; speaks to placement and position for all in God’s community.

Chosenness (1:3-14)

Paul uses language such as “chosen,” “predestined,” “adopted,” and “included” to underscore his point about placement—about how God specifically planned for non-Jews to join the Jews in covenant with him. Furthermore this was God’s decision before creation—to one day create a multi-ethnic faith community, which was brought about by Christ and sealed by the Spirit. It was to be a community that would mirror the unity of God himself. Everyone within this community would become “God’s possession.” History did not matter, in that; God’s adoption now trumped it. The non-Jews in Ephesus had the same access to the promises and blessings of God as the Jews, who came to God in faith through Christ. They were chosen. They belonged.

God is Able. You are Able (1:15-2:10)

Next Paul speaks about power and empowerment. The city of Ephesus was an epicenter of religion in ancient Rome, where in most superstition and magic played a major role. Lots of gods to possess, impress, appease and appeal to for favors, but for the Ephesian Christians that was supposed to be all over. Christ supplanted and exposed all of that through the power of his resurrection—the same power available to the Ephesian Christians to enable them to live out their placement in the kingdom (something Paul would explore more in 4:17-5:33). No need to return to the “ways of the world” along with behavior related to that. Their life in Christ was alive with power beyond what they could imagine (3:20-21). Being placed thusly and empowered accordingly, God had specific plans for them as his “workmanship.” God was able and so were they.

Peaceful Reconciliation (2:11-122)

In this section Paul reinforces the idea of placement, while also emphasizing the need for peace, harmony and unity in the new multi-ethnic faith community. His words also speak directly to identity. Formerly the non-Jews were excluded from the covenant—“foreigners” is the term he uses. But Christ changed that. He demolished the barriers of separation inherent with the Law in order to create this new community—the church. Hostility should no longer be the defining force between the Jew and non-Jew in this community. Instead peace and reconciliation should. This would call for new thinking about identity. No one is an alien, stranger or foreigner anymore. Everyone who comes to Christ in faith belongs as “citizens”. Paul imagines it as a kind of new temple with Christ as head and foundation—with all others being an integral, connected part of the building. For this to be realized, Jews would have to no longer primarily self-identify as Jews. The same would be true for non-Jews. Their primary identity would be as citizens of God’s kingdom–Christians. This then would allow the hostility to end and a united community of peace and harmony to emerge emphasizing reconciliation instead of hatred and division. Truly a place of belonging! Paul would urge even more specifically this kind of unity in 4:1-6 appealing to them to “make every effort” to bring it about.

But it would not be easy. Generations of suspicion, prejudice and hatred would have to be overcome. These feelings ran deep and the transformation into self-identifying primarily as a Christian—even before ethnicity—would take time. And this not just in Ephesus, but in almost every New Testament church. Yet it was completely necessary if the church was going to make an impact.

The Good News that they preached—centered of course on Jesus—included reconciliation; becoming part of a community where the old ways of thinking, identifying and behaving were replaced by a new paradigm. Here everyone–regardless of race, background, social status, gender was welcome to follow Jesus equally together with the same access to the Father through the Spirit. Former identities would be replaced and redefined through Jesus. Cultural pressure points and social conditioning that brought division would be overcome by the grace of Jesus lived out in the community. Everything would change—all relationships—between Jews and non-Jews; slave and free; men and women; husband and wife; children and parents. Destructive personal behavior would be put away and be replaced by healthy, others-centered actions. People would be “made new in the attitude of your minds” in order to “put on a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:23).

This was God’s plan. To this they were chosen. Through Christ they belonged completely without reservation. He empowered them in this process and through his Spirit to be able to actually live reconciliation out and create this community of peace and harmony. And what a witness it would be! It would literally change the world.

A Witness Still Needed

The parallels between Ephesus and us are numerous. We continue to live in a world intent on hostility, where peace and reconciliation are drowned out in other, louder, destructive and hate-filled voices. The challenge of self-identifying first and primarily as citizens of the kingdom remains especially when we are pulled to identify in so many other ways. It often runs headlong into cultural conventional thinking. But the call remains—we are to be made new, completely, not partially new. While the world seeks to divide, our message and actions are about reconciliation, peace and acceptance. We cannot afford to “follow the ways of the world”—allowing that to set our agendas. We must make “every effort” to maintain unity. We must be a welcoming force–inviting aliens, strangers and foreigners to discover the blessings of citizenship in Christ. We have to be open for the power of God to work within us in ways we cannot ask or imagine. What a transforming force this beautiful multi-ethnic, welcoming, united faith community can still be! I think you would agree that there is a huge need for this in our current climate. I pray we are up for this wonderful challenge.